Sunday, 11 April, 2021
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    International Women's Day    

OPINION

A Pioneer Photographer



P Kharel

February 24, coronation 1975 was the biggest media event for foreign journalists. More than 50 heads of state and government, princes, princesses, ministers and special representatives attended the spectacle. Educated, well-travelled and duly trained in her field of specialisation, Teeka RL Laxmi Simha was a woman with a vision. At a time when colour films rolls had to be sent abroad for processing and printing, colour photography was a rarity. Credit goes to Simha for taking the plunge in introducing a colour lab in the country. This changed the country’s landscape of colour photography.
The array of colour labs today would do well to pay the lady with camera and colour lab rich tributes for the path she paved for them to build on. Simha’s enthusiasm fuelled her desire to capture, chronicle conditions and action in motion with deft skill required for creative lens work. Her personal touch infused in the work of creativity was appreciated by her peers. She chronicled the motion and significance of the moment, conditions and context with meticulous care and the right selection of the tune and tenor of an unfolding action or event.
She took to professional photography with a passion that enabled her to venture into colour photography — a pioneering undertaking in the country. Gopal Chitrakar, Nepal’s first full-time press photographer, working for the Gorkhapatra publishing house, nods in approval of her talent and knowledge.
Major functions in Nepal attracted large congregations from within and lured many foreign press correspondents as well. The 1956 royal coronation, the national referendum announcement in 1980, the 1990 political change and such other sweeping events were such events. Born in 1936, Simha by 1956 had emerged as a professional camera wielder in such events especially in the 1970s and after. She established herself as an enterprising woman of proven credentials.

Exclusive honour
Simha was named one of the few photographers for Crown Prince Birendra wedding in 1970. Needless to say, she was the only woman photographer. In appreciation of her proven records, on the occasion of King Birendra’s coronation ceremony in 1975, she was accorded space at the exclusive enclosure allocated for a select few camerapersons at Hanumandhoka, built by King Pratap Malla more than 250 years before that event.
Simha’s professional recognition attracted attention from the august audience among the foreign dignitaries representing their governments. Unless someone else comes forward to prove otherwise, Simha’s distinction stands as the first Nepali to obtain formal photography training from a university. That her passion was more than that of an amateur was amply stamped by the manner in which she took up the challenge of setting up the first colour processing laboratory, Coloroma. Passion was behind her power of photography. Imagination and innovative ideas led her to ground-breaking entrepreneurship. The endeavour produced telling demonstration effects.
Behind the camera and beyond it, Simha’s portrait catalogues an inspiring personality. After struggling for nine years with cancer, she breathed her last at but the age of 57 years in 1993. In the world of photography, however, she made her mark picture perfect as an innovative mind and a person of action.

Close up
Awarded a string of several medals from Nepali and foreign governments, including Britain, Denmark and Finland, she proved her mettle as an industrious woman with the feel for time and sense of the market when she started the Colorama studio in 1968 in the capital city. That was shortly after she returned from London with a three-year Diploma in Photography obtained from Ealing Technical College in the British capital.
To her glowing credit, she rightly decided to take advantage of being in London when her husband Bharat Kesher who served as the military attaché at the Nepali embassy, and pursued the college course for formal academic study in her favourite field.
Simha’s knowledge added to her presence at the Riyal Nepal Film Corporation’s board of directors, rubbing shoulders with literary luminaries like Balkrishna Sama and Madhav Prasad Ghimire. The other two members who shared space with them were Executive Chairman Yadav Kharel, the first Nepali to obtain a diploma in film direction from London University, and Sridhar Khanal, known for introducing crime thriller writing in Nepali literature and was among the early hands in Nepali cinema by way of story writing, screenplay, assistant directorship and some acting.
With such credentials under her belt, Simha’s appointment as executive chair of RNFC was no surprise. Her stint as the corporation’s chief enabled her to attend international film festivals such as Cannes, Montreal and Tashkent. These were occasion when efforts were made at promoting Nepali films in the international arena.
From 1954 to 1958, she was Deputy Secretary at Women's Volunteer Service (WVS) from 1954 before being appointed secretary to the Vice-President of the Nepalese parliament (Upper House) till 1960. From 1964-1967, she was in the United Kingdom when her husband Bharat Kesher Simha served as military attaché at the Royal Nepali Embassy in London. Since early childhood, she developed keen interest in photography, as she was engaged quite seriously in taking photos of her family members. This developed into a life-long passion. She installed a processing room in this connection.
After obtaining School Leaving Certificate (SLC), the future pioneer in Nepal’s colour photo processing got enrolled in New Delhi’s Lady Irwin College in New Delhi (1952-1954) for a Diploma in Home Sciences. She was literally among a handful of women motor vehicle drivers in the 1950s. In a glowing tribute to the country’s remarkably enterprising figure of the photography business, the then Royal Photographer Sallyani Raja Gopendra Bahadur Shah aptly put it: “She achieved this mighty success only because she happened to be the example of a Profile in Courage and thus she knew how to love and what to love for!”
Indeed, Simha’s innovative ideas and spirit of entrepreneurship, put into practice, gets extolled for what was and she did at a time when Nepal’s photography was basically a budding sector. It is disappointing to find that the scores of camera wielders and numerous colour photo processing studios dotting across the country today are oblivious of one the pioneer woman who did so much at a time when women were basically confined to domestic life.
     
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.